How the English Language is Shakespeare’s Language

by • June 22, 2012
Almost all students of English, native and non-native speakers, have to study the works of William Shakespeare. Most do so begrudgingly. Part of this reaction is because, despite being reassured by teachers that Shakespeare is one of the most influential writers in the English language (and in the world), many students don’t understand exactly how profound Shakespeare’s writing was on the development of the English language.
Here’s some food for thought:

  • Before Shakespeare’s time, English language was, on the whole, not standardized. His works contributed significantly to the standardization of grammar, spelling, and vocabulary.Shakespeare introduced 1,700 original words into the language, many of which we still use (remarkably despite the significant changes in the language since Shakespeare’s time). These include: “lonely,” “frugal,” “dwindle,” and many more.
  • In addition to all the words, many phrases that we use daily originated in Shakespeare’s work. When someone talks about “breaking the ice” or having a “heart of gold” or when someone uses any number of other phrases, he is using Shakespeare’s language.
  • Finally, Shakespeare had a profound impact on poetry and literature that has lasted centuries. He perfected blank verse and became a standard in poetry. Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Lord Alfred Tennyson and Charles Dickens have all been heavily influenced by Shakespeare. The impact lead George Steiner to conclude that romantic English poets were “feeble variations on Shakespearean themes.”

Because of the profound impact he had on English language and culture, studying the works of Shakespeare is an indispensable part of cultural education. Exploring the thousands of ways we still use Shakespeare’s language and themes today is not only worthwhile and fascinating, but also fun.

Did you study Shakespeare’s works? What did you like? What did you dislike?